Dec 28, 2019; Orlando, Florida, USA;Iowa State Cyclones quarterback Brock Purdy (15) runs with the ball against the Iowa State Cyclones during the first half at Camping World Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
That’s how Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell described new strength and conditioning coach Dave Andrews‘ credentials upon announcing his hire in early January.
“Dave is one of the best strength and conditioning practitioners in the country,” Campbell said then.
Andrews — who left the University of Pittsburgh to join Campbell’s staff — is proving that now.
The fitness foundation he and his staff helped establish for the Cyclones before the COVID-19 pandemic turned into a widely-regarded global crisis made creative adjustments in the ensuing months both possible and successful.
Iowa State’s players are spry and strong as they work out in groups at the Bergstrom Practice Facility in advance of what’s hoped to be a 2020 season that starts on schedule with a Sept. 5 matchup with FCS South Dakota.
“I give Dave a ton of credit,” Campbell said in a Zoom call with the media on Thursday. “I think, for me, bringing Dave on board was almost a partnership in leadership. It’s like I tell our kids: you want to surround yourself with great people. And that’s something, to me, that being able to bring a leader, a man that’s got great knowledge of his craft and how it applies to our sport, both on the field and off the field, it’s been a great partnership. So I think to be able to lead and navigate through tough and trying times — adversity, it shows our weaknesses and it shows our strengths. I think Dave has been a great asset to strengthen us in a lot of areas through tough and trying times.”
Difficult times breed uncertainty — and Campbell’s well aware of all of that.
Will football shift to conference-only games? Will the starting date be pushed back to spring? Will this season even happen at all?
It’s enough to tear one’s hair out over, except Campbell chooses to focus on what is, not what-ifs.
“Just like I’ve talked to our staff and really our kids, we really I think have always (had) a motto here, which has really probably helped us through this experience, is we can only control what we can control,” said Campbell, whose team is ranked in the preseason top-25 by various preseason college football magazines. “Really taking things one day at a time and I think that’s really helped us to be quite honest with you. We can’t control what’s going on outside. We can’t control what we do or don’t know. What we can control is kind of what goes on in our bubble. I think that’s how we have to approach it and it’s really how I approached it because I think you can get so caught in everything else that’’s going on outside of our walls that easily you can kind of deviate from where you need to be and I think where we all need to be right now is the ability to stay ready, prepare our young people. Coaching isn’t just about — it’s not always just about football. It’s about life and everything else.”
But back to “just” football. There were some newsworthy nuggets today that relate to one-the-field efforts as well as more overarching concerns.
**North Carolina graduate transfer safety Greg Ross has yet to join the team, Campbell said, for personal reasons.
“Greg is dealing some things at home right now,” Campbell said of the two-year starter for the Tar Heels. “Right now I would still say when he gets here is very fluid, but we’ve definitely been in contact with Greg and I think just continuing to help be an asset to him and help him deal with anything that he has to deal with and then certainly address when he is done dealing with some of the things he’s got to deal with back home.”
**Campbell’s extremely impressed with a young, but talented offensive line that must replace four senior full and/or part-time starters.
“I’m probably as high as I’ve ever been on the offensive line,” Campbell said. “The huge piece for us is that we had building blocks to build on. Over the last two years, the most consistent linemen that we’ve had in our program are Colin Newell and Trevor Downing. Newell had a really special redshirt freshman year but got injured in the UNI game last year and really didn’t get back to full strength until the bowl season. He played really well against Notre Dame at right guard. And then you have Downing who was our most consistent lineman last year. He had a phenomenal redshirt freshman year. To have two building blocks like that is really huge. Then we recruited to a plan and you’re really starting to see that with coach (Jeff) Myers going into his third year. Guys like Rob Hudson, Grant Treiber, Joey Ramos — guys that have elite talent and have really started to come into their own and develop within our program. I want to see that group make a big step forward — that’s critical to the team’s success. Right now there is a lot of competition and it’s going to be really fun to watch that competition unfold because there is more talent competing for those positions than we’ve ever had. And to have two anchors with Colin Newell and Trevor Downing, I think that’s a huge positive.”
**Campbell also said senior defensive end JaQuan Bailey’s in “the best shape” possible after missing most of last season because of a lower-leg injury suffered in week four against Baylor.
Bailey has 18.5 career sacks — tied for ISU’s all-time record.
“People that follow us and cover our football program know the kind of player that JaQuan Bailey is,” Campbell said. “I will tell you that JaQuan’s come back in the best shape I’ve ever seen JaQuan in. Again, a guy that worked tremendously hard while he was at home in Jacksonville over three months. Came back better than he left us and after four weeks he’s in the best shape of his life. That doesn’t surprise me. I think the greater gift that JaQuan’s been given is the gift of the ability to sit on the outside and look in for the first time in his career a year ago. I think the greatest thing he can impact our program (with) is the ability to unify; the ability to be a great senior leader and the ability to connect with every person within our organization and our program.”
Connecting. That’s what Andrews has been busy doing since arriving in Ames around seven months ago. He and his staff developed highly specialized workout plans during quarantine when players were scattered across the country — some with makeshift home gyms, some without them.
“Our plan started with this in mind: No. 1, be simple. No. 2, engage,” Campbell said. “The simplicity piece of it is what you said — everybody has different things and equipment. Whatever plan that we had, we had to be really simple with the plan at hand. We had to have the plan so we could measure growth. I think Dave, his staff and myself were really able to think that through. That was enjoyable and it was certainly a challenge that I thought was done really well. No. 2, the engagement, if you asked what’s the best thing we had the ability to do? And that was to engage. For a good portion of the quarantine, whether it was the strength coaches or the team staff, we were able to touch base on a daily basis. It was critical for us to check in on their physical health and their mental health. That’s our job — to coach, inspire and to do a great job to help our young people. I thought coach Andrews and his staff, my staff and myself, we took it upon ourselves to make sure we touched base and had a daily touchpoint with our guys so we could talk through anything. Whether it’s personal or what’s going on from a strength and conditioning standpoint. What do you understand, what don’t you understand? Maybe you found or got some equipment and how do you implement those into your workout? We pretty much tailored everything to the individual needs of almost every one of our players. A lot of credit, a lot of time and a lot of effort went into the entire plan. We wouldn’t be where we’re at today without the strength and conditioning staff’s time and effort.”
One of those players who received highly personalized care is the most important player on the team: Quarterback Brock Purdy. The standout junior-to-be spent most of last season bothered by ankle issues, but still, put up dizzying passing numbers while being limited in the run game.
Purdy’s not “limited” anymore.
“When coach Andrews got here, his program of ligament stretches and stuff, I was able to strengthen up my ankle, and that was huge,” said Purdy, who set 18 school records last season. “He did that really fast. It took a couple weeks but it was faster than we expected. For me, personally, I feel great, I feel fast and feel flexible now. Having him and his staff here has been a great improvement and a blessing. It’s the best I’ve ever felt in my playing career.”